THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(San Francisco, California)
For Immediate Release February 26, 1999 11:20 A.M. PST
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON FOREIGN POLICY
Grand Hyatt Hotel
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you and good morning. Mr. Mayor, we're delighted to be here in San Francisco. We thank you for coming out to welcome us. Senator Boxer, Representative Pelosi, Representative Lofgren, members of the California legislature who are here. I'd like to especially thank two people who had a lot to do with the good things that have happened in the last six years in our administration, our former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, and Mrs. Perry, are here; and General John Shalikashvili, thank you for coming. We're delighted to see you. (Applause.)
I very much appreciate this opportunity to speak with all of you, to be joined with Secretary Albright and Mr. Berger, to talk about America's role in that century to come; to talk about what we must do to realize the promise of this extraordinary moment in the history of the world. For the first time since before the rise of fascism early in this century, there is no overriding threat to our survival or our freedom. Perhaps for the first time in history, the world's leading nations are not engaged in a struggle with each other for security or territory. The world clearly is coming together.
Since 1945, global trade has grown 15-fold, raising living standards on every continent. Freedom is expanding; for the first time in history, more than half the world's people elect their own leaders. Access to information by ordinary people the world over is literally exploding.
Because of these developments, and the dramatic increase in our own prosperity and confidence in this, the longest peacetime economic expansion in our history, the United States has the opportunity and, I would argue, the solemn responsibility to shape a more peaceful, prosperous, democratic world in the 21st century.
We must, however, begin this discussion with a little history and a little humility. Listen to this quote by another American leader, at the dawn of a new century: "The world's products are exchanged as never before, and with increasing transportation comes increasing knowledge and larger trade. We travel greater distances in a shorter space of time, and with more ease, than was ever dreamed of. The same important news is read, though in different languages, the same day, in all the world. Isolation is no longer possible. No nation can longer be indifferent to any other."
That was said by President William McKinley a hundred years ago. What we now call globalization was well underway even then. We, in fact, had more diplomatic posts in the world than we have today, and foreign investment actually played a larger role in our own economy then than it does today.
The optimism being expressed about the 20th century by President McKinley and others at that time was not all that much different from the hopes commonly expressed today about the 21st. The rising global trade and communications did lift countless lives then, just as it does today. But it did not stop the world's wealthiest nations from waging World War I and World War II. It did not stop the Depression, or the Holocaust, or communism. Had leading nations acted decisively then, perhaps these disasters might have been prevented. But the League of Nations failed, and America -- well, our principal involvement in the world was commercial and cultural, unless and until we were attacked.
After World War II, our leaders took a different course. Harry Truman came to this city and said that to change the world away from a world in which might makes right, "words are not enough. We must once and for all prove by our acts conclusively that right has might." He and his allies and their successors built a network of security alliances to preserve the peace, and a global financial system to preserve prosperity.
Over the last six years, we have been striving to renew those arrangements and to create new ones for the challenges of the next 50 years. We have made progress, but there is so very much more to do. We cannot assume today that globalization alone will wash away the forces of destruction at the dawn of the 21st century, any more than it did at the dawn of the 20th century. We cannot assume it will bring freedom and prosperity to ordinary citizens around the world who long for them. We cannot assume it will assume it will avoid environmental and public health disasters. We cannot assume that because we are now secure, we Americans do not need military strength or alliances, or that because we are prosperous, we are not vulnerable to financial turmoil half a world away.
The world we want to leave our children and grandchildren requires us to make the right choices, and some of them will be difficult. America has always risen to great causes, yet we have a tendency, still, to believe that we can go back to minding our own business when we're done. Today we must embrace the inexorable logic of globalization -- that everything, from the strength of our economy to the safety of our cities, to the health of our people, depends on events not only within our borders, but half a world away. We must see the opportunities and the dangers of the interdependent world in which we are clearly fated to live.
There is still the potential for major regional wars that would threaten our security. The arms race between India and Pakistan reminds us that the next big war could still be nuclear. There is a risk that our former adversaries will not succeed in their transitions to freedom and free markets. There is a danger that deadly weapons will fall into the hands of a terrorist group or an outlaw nation, and that those weapons could be chemical or biological.
There is a danger of deadly alliances among terrorists, narco-traffickers, and organized criminal groups. There is a danger of global environmental crises and the spread of deadly diseases. There is a danger that global financial turmoil will undermine open markets, overwhelm open societies, and undercut our own prosperity.
We must avoid both the temptation to minimize these dangers, and the illusion that the proper response to them is to batten down the hatches and protect America against the world. The promise of our future lies in the world. Therefore, we must work hard with the world -- to defeat the dangers we face together and to build this hopeful moment together, into a generation of peace, prosperity, and freedom. Because of our unique position, America must lead with confidence in our strengths and with a clear vision of what we seek to avoid and what we seek to advance.
Our first challenge is to build a more peaceful 21st century world. To that end, we're renewing alliances that extend the area where wars do not happen, and working to stop the conflicts that are claiming lives and threatening our interests right now.
The century's bloodiest wars began in Europe. That's why I've worked hard to build a Europe that finally is undivided, democratic and at peace. We want all of Europe to have what America helped build in Western Europe -- a community that upholds common standards of human rights, where people have the confidence and security to invest in the future, where nations cooperate to make war unthinkable.
That is why I have pushed hard for NATO's enlargement and why we must keep NATO's doors open to new democratic members, so that other nations will have an incentive to deepen their democracies. That is why we must forge a partnership between NATO and Russia, between NATO and Ukraine; why we are building a NATO capable not only of deterring aggression against its own territory, but of meeting challenges to our security beyond its territory -- the kind of NATO we must advance at the 50th Anniversary Summit in Washington this April.
We are building a stronger alliance with Japan, and renewing our commitment to deter aggression in Korea and intensifying our efforts for a genuine peace there. I thank Secretary Perry for his efforts in that regard. We also create a more peaceful world by building new partnerships in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Ten years ago we were shouting at each other across a North-South chasm defined by our differences. Today, we are engaged in a new dialogue that speaks the language of common interests -- of trade and investment; of education and health; of democracies that deliver not corruption and despair, but progress and hope; of a common desire that children in all our countries will be free of the scourge of drugs. Through these efforts to strengthen old alliances and build new partnerships, we advance the prospects for peace. However, the work of actually making peace is harder and often far more contentious.
It's easy, for example, to say that we really have no interests in who lives in this or that valley in Bosnia, or who owns a strip of brushland in the Horn of Africa, or some piece of parched earth by the Jordan River. But the true measure of our interests lies not in how small or distant these places are, or in whether we have trouble pronouncing their names. The question we must ask is, what are the consequences to our security of letting conflicts fester and spread. We cannot, indeed, we should not, do everything or be everywhere. But where are values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so. And we must remember that the real challenge of foreign policy is to deal with problems before they harm our national interests.
It's also easy to say that peacemaking is simply doomed, where people are embittered by generations of hate, where the old animosities of race and religion and ethnic difference raise their hoary heads. But I will never forget the day that the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority came to the White House, in September of 1993, to sign their peace accord. At that moment, the question arose, and indeed, based on the pictures afterward, it seemed to be the main question, whether if, in front of the entire world, Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat would actually shake hands for the first time.
It was an interesting and occasionally humorous discussion. But it ended when Yitzhak Rabin, a soldier for a lifetime, said to me, "Mr. President, I have been fighting this man for a lifetime, 30 years. I have buried a lot of my own people in the process. But you do not make peace with your friends."
It is in our interest to be a peacemaker, not because we think we can make all these differences go away, but because, in over 200 years of hard effort here at home, and with bitter and good experiences around the world, we have learned that the world works better when differences are resolved by the force of argument rather than the force of arms.
That is why I am proud of the work we have done to support peace in Northern Ireland, and why we will keep pressing the leaders there to observe not just the letter, but the spirit of the Good Friday Accord. (Applause.)
It is also why I intend to use the time I have remaining in this office to push for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to reach a just and final settlement, and to stand by our friends for peace, such as Jordan. The people of the Middle East can do it, but time is precious, and they can't afford to waste any more of it. In their hearts, they know there can be no security or justice for any who live in that small and sacred land until there is security and justice for all who live there. If they do their part, we must do ours.
We will also keep working with our allies to build peace in the Balkans. Three years ago, we helped to end the war in Bosnia. A lot of doubters then thought it would soon start again. But Bosnia is on a steady path toward renewal and democracy. We've been able to reduce our troops there by 75 percent as peace has taken hold, and we will continue to bring them home.
The biggest remaining danger to this progress has been the fighting and the repression in Kosovo. Kosovo is, after all, where the violence in the former Yugoslavia began, over a decade ago, when they lost the autonomy guaranteed under Yugoslav law. We have a clear national interest in ensuring that Kosovo is where this trouble ends. If it continues, it almost certainly will draw in Albania and Macedonia, which share borders with Kosovo, and on which clashes have already occurred.
Potentially, it could affect our allies, Greece and Turkey. It could spark tensions in Bosnia itself, jeopardizing the gains made there. If the conflict continues, there will certainly be more atrocities, more refugees, more victims crying out for justice and seeking out revenge.
Last fall, a quarter of a million displaced people in Bosnia were facing cold and hunger in the hills. Using diplomacy backed by force, we brought them home and slowed the fighting.
For 17 days this month, outside Paris, we sought with our European partners an agreement that would end the fighting for good. Progress was made toward a common understanding of Kosovo's autonomy -- progress that would not have happened, I want to say, but for the unity of our allies and the tireless leadership of our Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. (Applause.)
Here's where we are. Kosovar Albanian leaders have agreed in principle to a plan that would protect the rights of their people and give them substantial self-government. Serbia has agreed to much, but not all, of the conditions of autonomy, and has so far not agreed to the necessity of a NATO-led international force to maintain the peace there.
Serbia's leaders must now accept that only by allowing people in Kosovo control over their day-to-day lives -- as, after all, they have been promised under Yugoslav law -- it is only by doing that can they keep their country intact. Both sides must return to the negotiations on March 15, with clear mandate for peace. In the meantime, President Milosevic should understand that this is a time for restraint, not repression. And if he does not, NATO is prepared to act.
Now, if there is a peace agreement that is effective, NATO must also be ready to deploy to Kosovo to give both sides the confidence to lay down their arms. Europeans would provide the great bulk of such a force, roughly 85 percent. But if there is a real peace, America must do its part as well.
Kosovo is not an easy problem. But if we don't stop the conflict now, it clearly will spread. And then we will not be able to stop it, except at far greater cost and risk.
A second challenge we face is to bring our former adversaries, Russia and China, into the international system as open, prosperous, stable nations. The way both countries develop in the coming century will have a lot to do with the future of our planet.
For 50 years, we confronted the challenge of Russia's strength. Today, we must confront the risk of a Russia weakened by the legacy of communism and also by its inability at the moment to maintain prosperity at home or control the flow of its money, weapons and technology across its borders.
The dimensions of this problem are truly enormous. Eight years after the Soviet collapse, the Russian people are hurting. The economy is shrinking, making the future uncertain. Yet, we have as much of a stake today in Russia overcoming these challenges as we did in checking its expansion during the Cold War. This is not a time for complacency or self-fulfilling pessimism. Let's not forget that Russia's people have overcome enormous obstacles before. And just this decade, with no living memory of democracy or freedom to guide them, they have built a country more open to the world than ever; a country with a free press and a robust, even raucous debate; a country that should see in the first year of the new millennium the first peaceful democratic transfer of power in its 1,000-year history.
The Russian people will decide their own future. But we must work with them for the best possible outcome, with realism and with patience. If Russia does what it must to make its economy work, I am ready to do everything I can to mobilize adequate international support for them. With the right framework, we will also encourage foreign investment in its factories, its energy fields, its people. We will increase our support for small business and for the independent media. We will work to continue cutting our two nations' nuclear arsenals, and help Russia prevent both its weapons and its expertise from falling into the wrong hands.
The budget I have presented to Congress will increase funding for this critical threat reduction by 70 percent over the next five years.
The question China faces is how best to assure its stability and progress. Will it choose openness and engagement? Or will it choose to limit the aspirations of its people without fully embracing the global rules of the road? In my judgment, only the first path can really answer the challenges China faces.
We cannot minimize them. China has made incredible progress in lifting people out of poverty, and building a new economy. But now its rate of economic growth is declining -- just as it is needed to create jobs for a growing, and increasingly more mobile, population. Most of China's economy is still stifled by state control. We can see in China the kinds of problems a society faces when it is moving away from the rule of fear, but is not yet rooted in the rule of law.
China's leaders know more economic reform is needed, and they know reform will cause more unemployment, and they know that can cause unrest. At the same time, and perhaps for those reasons, they remain unwilling to open up their political system, to give people a peaceful outlet for dissent.
Now, we Americans know that dissent is not always comfortable, not always easy, and often raucous. But I believe that the fact that we have peaceful, orderly outlets for dissent is one of the principal reasons we're still around here as the longest-lasting freely elected government in the world. And I believe, sooner or later, China will have to come to understand that a society, in the world we're living in -- particularly a country as great and old and rich and full of potential as China -- simply cannot purchase stability at the expense of freedom.
On the other hand, we have to ask ourselves, what is the best thing to do to try to maximize the chance that China will take the right course, and that, because of that, the world will be freer, more peaceful, more prosperous in the 21st century? I do not believe we can hope to bring change to China if we isolate China from the forces of change. Of course, we have our differences, and we must press them. But we can do that, and expand our cooperation, through principled and purposeful engagement with China, its government, and its people.
Our third great challenge is to build a future in which our people are safe from the dangers that arise, perhaps halfway around the world -- dangers from proliferation, from terrorism, from drugs, from the multiple catastrophes that could arise from climate change.
Each generation faces the challenges of not trying to fight the last war. In our case, that means recognizing that the more likely future threat to our existence is not a strategic nuclear strike from Russia or China, but the use of weapons of mass destruction by an outlaw nation or a terrorist group.
In the last six years, fighting that threat has become a central priority of American foreign policy. Here, too, there is much more to be done. We are working to stop weapons from spreading at the source, as with Russia. We are working to keep Iraq in check so that it does not threaten the rest of the world or its region with weapons of mass destruction. We are using all the means at our disposal to deny terrorists safe havens, weapons, and funds. Even if it takes years, terrorists must know there is no place to hide.
Recently, we tracked down the gunman who killed two of our people outside the CIA six years ago. We are training and equipping our local fire, police and medical personnel to deal with chemical, biological and nuclear emergencies, and improving our public health surveillance system, so that if a biological weapon is released, we can detect it and save lives. We are working to protect our critical computer systems from sabotage.
Many of these subjects are new and unfamiliar, and may be frightening. As I said when I gave an address in Washington not very long ago about what we were doing on biological and computer security and criminal threats, it is important that we have the right attitude about this. It is important that we understand that the risks are real and they require, therefore, neither denial, nor panic. As long as people organize themselves in human societies, there will be organized forces of destruction who seek to take advantage of new means of destroying other people.
And the whole history of conflict can be seen in part as the race of defensive measures to catch up with offensive capabilities. That is what we're doing in dealing with the computer challenges today; that is what we are doing in dealing with the biological challenges today. It is very important that the American people, without panic, be serious and deliberate about them, because it is the kind of challenge that we have faced repeatedly. And as long as our country and the world is around, unless there is some completely unforeseen change in human nature, our successors will have to do the same.
We are working to develop a national missile defense system which could, if we decide to deploy it, be deployed against emerging ballistic missile threats from rogue nations. We are bolstering the global agreements that curb proliferation. That's the most important thing we can be doing right now. This year, we hope to achieve an accord to strengthen compliance with the Convention against Biological Weapons. It's a perfectly good convention, but, frankly, it has no teeth. We have to give it some. And we will ask our Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to stop nations from testing nuclear weapons so they're constrained from developing new ones.
Again, I say: I implore the United States Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty this year. It is very important for the United States and the world. (Applause.)
Our security and our safety also depends upon doing more to protect our people from the scourge of drugs. To win this fight, we must work with others, including and especially Mexico. Mexico has a serious drug problem, increasingly affecting more of its own young people. No one understands this better than President Zedillo. He described it as the number one threat to his country's security, its people its democracy. He is working hard to establish clean government, true democracy and the rule of law. He is working hard to tackle the corruption traffickers have wrought.
He cannot win this battle alone, and neither can we. In any given year, the narco-traffickers may spend hundreds of millions of dollars to try to suborn Mexican law enforcement officials, most of whom work for under $10,000 a year.
As I certified to Congress today, Mexico is cooperating with us in the battle for our lives. And I believe the American people will be safer in this, as in so many other ways, if we fight drugs with Mexico, rather than walk away.
Another global danger we face is climate change. As far as we can tell, with all the scientific evidence available, the hottest years our planet has ever experienced were 1997 and 1998. The two hottest years recorded in the last several -- excuse me -- nine of the ten hottest years recorded in the last several centuries occurred in the last decade.
Now, we can wait and hope and do nothing, and try to ignore what the vast majority of scientists tell us is a pattern that is fixed and continuing. We could ignore the record-breaking temperatures, the floods, the storms, the droughts that have caused such misery. Or we can accept that preventing the disease and destruction climate change can bring will be infinitely cheaper than letting future generations try to clean up the mess, especially when you consider that greenhouse gases, once emitted into the atmosphere, last and have a destructive environmental effect for at least a hundred years.
We took a giant step forward in 1997, when we helped to forge the Kyoto agreement. Now we're working to persuade developing countries that they, too, can and must participate meaningfully in this effort without forgoing growth. We are also trying to persuade a majority in the United States Congress that we can do the same thing.
The approach I have taken in America is not to rely on a whole raft of new regulations, and not to propose big energy taxes, but instead to offer tax incentives and dramatic increases in investment in new technologies, because we know -- we know now -- that we have the technological capacity to break the iron link between Industrial Age energy use patterns and economic growth. You're proving it in California every day, with stiffer environmental standards than other states have.
We know that the technology is just beginning to emerge to allow us to have clean cars and other clean forms of transportation; to dramatically increase the capacity of all of our buildings to keep out heat and cold, and to let in more light. We know that the conservation potential of what we have right now available has only just been scratched. And we must convince the world, and critical decision-makers in the United States to change their minds about a big idea -- namely, that the only way a country can grow is to consume more energy resources in a way that does more to increase global warning.
One of the most interesting conversations I had when I was in China was with the Environmental Minister there, who thanked me for going there to do an environmental event, because he was having trouble convincing the government that they could continue to lift the Chinese people out of poverty and still improve the environment. This is a central, big idea that people all over the world will have to change their minds about before we will be open and free to embrace the technological advances that are lying evident all around us. And all of you that can have any impact on that, I implore you to do it. (Applause.)
Our fourth challenge is to create a world trading and financial system that will lift the lives of ordinary people on every continent around the world. Or, as it has been stated in other places, to put a human face on the global economy. Over the last six years, we've taken giant steps in opening the global trading system. The United States alone has concluded over 270 different trade agreements. Once again, we are the world's largest exporting nation. There is a lot more to be done.
In the first five years of my presidency, about 30 percent of our growth came from expanding trade. Last year, we had a good year, but we didn't have much growth from expanding trade because of the terrible difficulties of the people in Asia, in Russia, and because of the slowdown in growth in Latin America, and because we did not reach out to seize new possibilities in Africa. Those people are suffering more, and our future prospects are being constrained.
The question is what to do about it. Some of the folks outside who were protesting when I drove up were saying by their signs that they believe globalization is inherently bad and there's no way in the wide world to put a human face on the global economy. But if you look at the facts of the last 30 years, hundreds of millions of people have had their economic prospects advanced on every continent because they have finally been able to find a way to express their creativity in positive terms, and produce goods and services that could be purchased around the borders of their nation.
Now, the question is, how do we deal with the evident challenges and problems that we face in high relief today, and seize the benefit that we know comes from expanding trade. I've asked for a new round of global trade negotiations to expand exports of services, foreign products and manufacturers. I am still determined to reach agreement on a free trade area of the Americas. If it hadn't been for our expansion in Latin America, from Mexico all the way to the southern tip of South America, we would have been in much worse shape this last year.
I have urged Congress to give the trade authority the President has traditionally had to advance our prosperity, and I've asked them to approve the Caribbean Basin Initiative and the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act because we have special responsibilities and special opportunities in the Caribbean and in Africa that have gone too long unseized.
But trade is not an end in itself. It has to work for ordinary people; it has to contribute to the wealth and fairness of societies. It has to reinforce the values that give meaning to life, not simply in the United States, but in the poorest countries, struggling to lift their people to their dreams. That's why we're working to build a trading system that upholds the rights of workers and consumers, and helps us and them in other countries to protect the environment, so that competition among nations is a race to the top, not the bottom. This year we will lead the international community to conclude a treaty to ban abusive child labor everywhere in the world. (Applause.)
The gains of global economic exchange have been real and dramatic. But when the tides of capital first flood emerging markets, and then abruptly recede; when bank failures and bankruptcies grip entire economies; when millions who have worked their way into the middle class are plunged suddenly into poverty -- the need for reform of the international financial system is clear.
I don't want to minimize the complexity of this challenge. As nations began to trade more, and as investment rules began to permit people to invest in countries other than their own more, it became more and more necessary to facilitate the conversion of currencies. Whenever you do that, you will create a market against risk, just in the transfer of currencies. Whenever you do that, you will have people that are moving money around because they think the value of the money itself will change, and profit might be gained in an independent market of currency exchange.
It is now true that on any given day, there is $1.5 trillion of currency exchange in the world. Many, many, many times more than the actual value of the exchange of goods and services. And we have got to find a way to facilitate the movement of money -- without which trade and investment cannot occur -- in a way that avoids these dramatic cycles of boom and then bust, which have led to the collapse of economic activity in so many countries around the world.
We found a way to do it in the United States after the Great Depression. And thank goodness we have never again had a Great Depression, even though we've had good times and bad times. That is the challenge facing the world financial system today.
The leading economies have got a lot of work to do. We have to do everything we can -- not just the United States, but Europe and Japan -- to spur economic growth. Unless there is a restoration of growth, all the changes in the financial rules we make will not get Asia, Latin America, countries -- Russia -- out of their difficulties.
We have to be ready to provide quick and decisive help to nations committed to sound policies. We have to help nations build social safety nets so that, when they have inevitable changes in their economic conditions, people at least have the basic security they need to continue to embrace change and advance the overall welfare of society.
We have to encourage nations to maintain open, properly regulated financial systems so that decisions are shaped by informed market decisions and not distorted by corruption. We also have to take responsible steps to reform the global financial architecture for the 21st century. And we'll do some more of that at the G-7 summit in Germany in June.
In the meanwhile, we have to recognize that the United States has made a great contribution to keeping this crisis from being worse than it would have been by helping to get money to Brazil, to Russia, to other countries, and by keeping our own markets open. If you compare, for example, our import patterns with those of Europe or those of Japan, you will see that we have far, far more open markets. It has worked to make us competitive and productive. We also have the lowest unemployment rate in the entire world among all advanced countries now, something that many people thought would never happen again.
On the other hand, we cannot let other countries' difficulties in our open markets become an excuse for them to violate international trade rules and dump products illegally on our markets. We've had enough problems in America this year and last year -- in agriculture and aerospace, especially -- from countries that could no longer afford to buy products, many of which they had already offered. Then, in the last several months, we've seen an enormous problem in this country in our steel industry because of evident dumping of products in the American market that violated the law.
So I want you to know what while I will do everything to keep our markets open, I intend while this crisis persists to do everything I can to enforce our trade laws.
Yesterday, we received some evidence that our aggressive policy is producing some results, and I think proof that it wasn't market forces that led to what we saw in steel over the last year. The new figures from the Commerce Department show this: Imports of hot-rolled steel from countries most responsible for the surge -- Japan, Russia and Brazil -- have fallen by 96 percent from the record levels we saw last November.
That is not bad news for them, that's good news. If American markets are going to stay open, we have to play by the rules. We have to follow lawful economic trends, not political and economic decisions made to dump on the American markets in ways which hurt our economy and undermine our ability to buy the exports of other countries.
Our fifth challenge has to keep freedom as a top goal for the world of the 21st century. Countries like South Korea and Thailand have proven in this financial crisis that open societies are more resilient, that elected governments have a legitimacy to make hard choices in hard times. But if democracies over the long run aren't able to deliver for their people, to take them out of economic turmoil, the pendulum that swung so decisively toward freedom over the last few years could swing back, and the next century could begin as badly as this one began in that regard.
Therefore, beyond economics, beyond the transformation of the great countries to economic security -- Russia and China -- beyond many of our security concerns, we also have to recognize that we can have no greater purpose than to support the right of other people to live in freedom and shape their own destiny. If that right could be universally exercised, virtually every goal I have outlined today would be advanced.
We have to keep standing by those who risk their own freedom to win it for others. Today we're releasing our annual Human Rights Report: The message of the Human Rights Report is often resented, but always respected, for its candor, its consistency for what it says about our country and our values. We need to deepen democracy where it's already taking root by helping our partners narrow their income gaps, strengthen their legal institutions, and build well-educated, healthy societies.
This will be an important part of the trip I take to Central America next week, which has prevailed against decades of civil war only to be crushed in the last several months by the devastating force of nature.
This year, we will see profoundly important developments in the potential transition to democracy in two critical countries -- Indonesia and Nigeria. Both have the capacity to lift their entire regions if they succeed, and to swamp them in a sea of disorder if they fail. In the coming year and beyond, we must make a concentrated effort to help them achieve what will be the world's biggest victories for freedom since 1989.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. Tomorrow, it holds its first free presidential election, after a dictatorship that made it the poorest oil-rich country in the world. We are providing support for the transition, and if it succeeds we have to be prepared to do more. Because we count on further progress, today we are also waiving the sanctions we imposed when its government did not cooperate in the fight against drugs.
Indonesia is the fourth-largest nation and the largest Islamic country in the entire world. In June, it will hold what we hope will be its first truly democratic election in more than 40 years. Indonesia desperately needs a government that can help it overcome its economic crisis while maintaining the support of its people. We are helping to strengthen the social safety net for its people in providing the largest contribution of any nation to support the coming elections.
Whether these struggles are far or near, their outcome will profoundly affect us. Whether a child in Africa or Southeast Asia or Russia or China can grow up educated, healthy, safe, free from violence, free of hate, full of hope, and free to decide his or her own destiny, this will have a lot to do with the life our children have as they grow up. It will help to determine if our children go to war, have jobs, have clean air, have safe streets.
For our nation to be strong, we must maintain a consensus that seemingly distant problems can come home if they are not addressed, and addressed promptly. We must recognize we cannot lift ourselves to the heights to which we aspire if the world is not rising with us. I say again, the inexorable logic of globalization is the genuine recognition of interdependence. We cannot wish into being the world we seek. Talk is cheap; decisions are not.
That is why I have asked Congress to reverse the decline in defense spending that began in 1985, and I am hopeful and confident that we can get bipartisan majorities in both Houses to agree. I hope it will also agree to give more support to our diplomats, and to programs that keep our soldiers out of war; to fund assistance programs to keep nations on a stable path to democracy and growth; and to finally pay both our dues and our debts to the United Nations. (Applause.)
In an interdependent world, we cannot lead if we expect to lead only on our own terms, and never on our own nickel. We can't be a first-class power if we're only prepared to pay for steerage.
I hope all of you, as citizens, believe that we have to seize the responsibilities that we have today with confidence -- to keep taking risks for peace; to keep forging opportunities for our people, and seeking them for others as well; to seek to put a genuinely human face on the global economy; to keep faith with all those around the world who struggle for human rights, the rule of law, a better life; to look on our leadership not as a burden, but as a welcome opportunity; to build the future we dream for our children in these, the final days of the 20th century, and the coming dawn of the next.
The story of the 21st century can be quite a wonderful story. But we have to write the first chapter.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)